Cows' milk is a key part of a healthy diet for adults and for children older than age 1. Milk provides your body with energy, protein, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A, riboflavin, and other nutrients. Experts agree that breast-feeding is the preferred way to feed an infant for the first year of life. But if you can't breast-feed or don't want to, use man-made infant formulas rather than cows' milk to feed your baby. These formulas are usually made from cows' milk or soy but have iron and other key nutrients added to them. Also, the protein in formula is changed to make it easier for your baby to digest. Store-bought infant formula provides good nutrition for a baby. But it does lack certain factors found in breast milk that help protect a baby against infection and allergies.
In what food source is the nutrient found?
Whole milk, low-fat milk, fat-free milk, skim milk, and dry powdered milk are all forms of cows' milk. Other products made from cows' milk include:
- cottage cheese
- ice cream
How does the nutrient affect the body?
Cows' milk and dairy products are excellent food sources of calcium and vitamin D. These nutrients help promote bone growth. If you get the milk you need each day, you are more likely to maintain strong bones throughout your life.
Cows' milk also provides the high-quality protein that young children need for healthy growth and development. Plus, milk is fortified with vitamin A, which helps promote healthy skin, hair, bones, teeth, and mucous membranes. Vitamin A also helps you see in dim light.
Rarely, a person might have an allergy to the protein in milk, called lactose. Lactose allergy is more common in infants and young children than in adults, and most children do outgrow it. Those people who are allergic to lactose must avoid all dairy products.
But there are other people who have a less severe reaction to milk. This condition is called lactose intolerance (which is due to a deficiency of the enzyme that digests lactose, called lactase), and people who have it can eat or drink dairy products that have most of the lactose removed from them.
Cows' milk is a key part of most healthy diets for adults and children older than age 1.
But infants should not drink cows' milk because it does not have the right amounts of nutrients for human babies. Cows' milk, after all, was intended to feed calves. The protein in cows' milk is not the same as that found in human breast milk and man-made infant formulas. It is harder for an infant to digest and absorb. Also, an infant's body has a hard time absorbing the iron found in cows' milk.
Once a child has reached age 1, whole cows' milk may be started in place of breast milk or formula as long as the baby can tolerate it. Health experts do not advise feeding low-fat dairy products to children less than age 2. Two percent milk and fat-free milk are two examples of low-fat dairy foods.
Fat does not need to be limited in the diets of children under the age of 2. In fact, experts recommend whole-milk products for children between the ages of 1 and 2. This ensures that the child gets the amount of fat he or she needs for normal growth and development of the brain and nervous system.
As children age, the amount of energy they need depends on their activity level and rate of growth. For children ages 2 or older, fat-free (skim) milk products provide enough nutrients for growth and development.
As children grow up, other foods may become the main source of calories and protein. During years of peak bone growth, cows' milk provides a rich source of calcium and vitamin D.
During the later adult years, getting enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet continues to be key. Drinking enough milk each day can help prevent the loss of calcium from your bones that can lead to a disease called osteoporosis.
The recommended amounts of (cows') milk group servings you need daily are as follows:
None for infants age 0 to 12 months
Two servings for young and school-age children
Three servings for teenagers and young adults up to age 24
Two servings for adults over age 24
Three servings for pregnant or breast-feeding women
One serving equals:
- 1 cup of milk or yogurt
- 1.5 ounces of natural cheese
- 2 ounces of processed cheese
The difference between whole milk, low-fat milk, and fat-free milk and dairy products is the fat and calorie content. Fat-free (skim) milk and milk products have the same amount of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, as whole milk. What they don't have is the saturated fat and extra calories.
Dairy products are a key part of your daily diet. Some studies have suggested a link between the early use of cows' milk in young infants and type 1 diabetes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes this possible link. In response, it strongly supports breast-feeding rather than cows' milk during the first year of life. There are no credible experts who say that children over age 1 need to avoid milk or dairy products.